August 15, 2020

The Mystery of the Twisted Stitches

For hundreds of years, the Island has been renowned for its lace. A tradition passed from mothers to daughters. The lace was so pure and perfect that it punished any person black of heart who purchased it.

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The revival of an infamous local folktale all began after Wednesday nights’ terrible storm, when the fierce winds swept the Leonora onto the rocks near St. Lawrence. Sadly, the shipwreck resulted in a single fatality. Mr Thomas Belfreyman, a passenger and a stockings salesman from Colchester Essex, was found the next morning washed up on Ventnor beach. Luckily, the rest of the ship’s crew of twelve survived.

Mr Belfreyman’s untimely death should have been another unfortunate but easily explainable tragedy, except for one matter; a paper bag filled with Island lace was found inside the dead man’s pocket. The contents of the small bag have become the source of much talk around the Island, reminding many of the old tales. It appears Mr Belfreyman’s is by no means the first death associated with the Island’s famous thread-work.

For hundreds of years, the Island has been renowned for its lace. A tradition passed from mothers to daughters, the local lace industry boomed from the 1850s. At its height of popularity, a pound of the fine spidery lace fetched a pound of silver, with lace-making employing over thirty Island women. Queen Victoria herself was a regular customer. However, since the War, the closing of the main lace factory in Ryde and a number of unexplained deaths, lace-making and the knowledge of the craft has dwindled to a few elderly residents.

Before the industrialisation of lace-making, the mystical power of Island lace was well-known. Stories of the curse were told around the hearth on stormy nights.
Mr Simon Ferris, son of the owner of the now-closed Ferris & Wilson Lace factory, heartily quashed the rumours. ‘It is all a bunch of poppycock...’ Mr Ferris said.

Whilst another source, who did not wish to named, freely admitted there was magic hidden within the stitches. The techniques taught over the centuries had created a lace was so pure and perfect that it punished any person black of heart who purchased it. The curse began with a broken heart, as curses often do. A local young lady, who was a highly skilled lace-maker, fell madly in love with a mainland man. The innocent girl made him a trail of lace as a symbol of her love with the hope that they would soon be married. The cad took the lace and used her present to woo another prettier maid.

Image by Ruth Archer

The heartsick lace maker cursed his name and the lace he took from her under false pretences. The next day, the wretch was found drowned in the river Hamble. His death was first attributed to drunkenness but quickly the tale of thwarted lace-maker spread and people became afraid..

It is not known who tatted and sold Mr Belfreyman the fateful lace. When questioned about the connection, Constable Bragg stated that Mr Belfreyman’s death by drowning was not suspicious and would not be investigated any further. As an aside, Constable Bragg did not consider the lace-maker to be a risk to the public.

Island lace is still for sale without any warning to unwary buyers. Even after the consequences were explained, Mrs Bessie Sneddon, the shop mistress, was not willing to place a warning sign alongside the lace.

All attempts to locate the maker, or makers, of the lace in Mr Belfreyman’s jacket pocket have been fruitless. No one knows, or will say, who made the lace. And when visits were made to the homes of the last remaining lace-makers on the Island, their houses were empty.

If you are in the market for new lace, beware. Ensure you are pure of heart before you make the purchase or face the consequences.

The Mystery of the Twisted Stitches